Innovation Monitor: A Better-Verse and Meta-nopolies
Welcome to this week’s Innovation Monitor.
Two weeks ago, Facebook announced its rebranding and name change to Meta, emphasizing its current and future focus on the metaverse. According to the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity. Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company.”
To begin, the origins of the Metaverse have nothing to do with any social media or tech platform. The Metaverse was originally coined in the 1992 novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In the book, the Metaverse (always capitalized in Stephenson’s fiction) is a shared “imaginary place” that’s “made available to the public over the worldwide fiber-optics network” and projected onto virtual reality goggles. In it, developers can “build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.”
Facebook/Meta’s announcement signals an accelerated investment and mainstream interest in the metaverse, and according to some, the space could be worth $82B USD by 2025. According to the market research form Emergen Research, the metaverse market size reached $47.7B USD in 2020, and is expected to grow and reach a revenue CAGR or 43% due to a rising focus on converging digital and physical worlds using the Internet, increasing popularity of mixed reality, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those that would like to catch up on the metaverse, we hosted a great panel discussion on the future of the metaverse during our annual Summit, and previously wrote about Roblox, Metahumans, and the future of gaming.
This week, we And for a moment of levity, we’ll quickly note that the announcement led to a flurry of creative responses and reactions including this one from a healthtech startup.
A big thank you to our graduate student assistant Lauren Lubra for her help putting this week’s newsletter! And thank you for reading. As always, if you were forwarded this email, you can easily sign up here.
Erica Matsumoto Facebook’s Play: Horizon Home, Worlds & Workrooms To many, the announcement builds on Facebook’s notable acquisitions and investments in immersive media, including Oculus (which, as a result of Meta, appears to be quietly pivoted out). The stated goals of Facebook Reality Labs is to “build the future of connection within virtual and augmented reality,” and is effectively the branch of the company focused on turning its metaverse into reality.
On October 28, 2021, at Facebook’s Connect 2021, the team introduced Horizon Homes, a part of their vision for the metaverse. Once you put on a Quest headset, you will be able to join friends virtually to hang out, play games, and use various apps together. Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms are in the works.
Microsoft Mesh: A Teams Integration Microsoft has also joined the metaverse world, with plans to release Mesh More Mesh (VIDEO) to its Teams platform in 2022. Mesh will offer pre-built immersive spaces for various kinds of gatherings, such as meetings and social mixers. Over time, users will be able to create their own spaces within Mesh.
According to Microsoft, Mesh will, “allow people in different physical locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences, with the productivity tools of Teams, where people can join virtual meetings, send chats, collaborate on shared documents, and more.” In addition to joining these spaces via a VR headset, you will also be able to join via a smartphone or laptop.Mesh will be able to be used via a VR headset or through smartphones and laptops.
While Meta and Microsoft are two major players looking to join and expand within the metaverse space, many other companies are also exploring how they want to move forward with a metaverse; either by creating a metaverse of their own to invite customer into or figuring out how they will represent themselves in other metaverses.
The Many Metaverses of Today While some tech companies may want us to believe otherwise, currently, the world is full of many a metaverse. We have many virtual worlds, and while some discussion around whether these worlds are complete or partial metaverses is open to discussion, we’re going to highlight that currently there are several ways to explore new virtual worlds:
- Second Life
- Fortnite Concerts
- Horizon Workplaces
- EVE Online
- GTA Online
- Ready Player Me
A Better, Safer Metaverses of Tomorrow With all the work companies are doing to create their own metaverses for their customers, we are on a precipice which presents us with both opportunities and challenges.
We have the opportunity to ensure that those who are leading the creation of these metaverses reflect our population. Metaverse creators need to come from different nations, races, and abilities. To create spaces which are safe, healthy, and meaningful for all, the creators of those spaces need to be diverse and ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion are in the very design of these spaces from the start.
Many potential harms need to be considered when designing a metaverse.
An important issue to address while creating a metaverse is user safety. Many people are also looking towards the gaming industry to help create guidelines related to safety in the metaverse. The gaming industry already has online spaces which allow their customers to socially interact, which has had negative consequences in the past. And the Virtual Influencer Agency has created their own code of ethics for brand owned avatars they create in the metaverse.
Online harassment between players has been a persistent issue in the industry, with companies attempting to address it in various ways. A 2020 Anti-Defamation League survey revealed that 81 percent of American adults experienced harassment in online multiplayer games, compared to 74 percent in 2019, while 70 percent were called offensive names in online multiplayer games, and 60 percent were targets of trolling or “deliberate and malicious attempts to provoke [other gamers] to react negatively.” Overall, there was a 7 percent increase from 2019 to 2020.
One example we can look to to counteract potential harassment is the agreement of safety principles for online gaming created in partnership between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. This agreement had three main principles:
- Always provide the most up to date tools and information to players and parents regarding how to manage the ecosystems they visit and exist in.
- Partnership with law enforcement, each other, and the community to find ways to make their platforms safer, including reporting people as needed.
- Be accountable. If people violate the code of conduct, follow through with the appropriate punishment.
For similar reasons, Microsoft recently acquired Two Hat, a moderation platform that can ban and suspend suspected abusive players. Two Hat combines linguistics and AI to classify, filter, and escalate harms including but not limited to harassment, abuse, hate speech, and threats. Microsoft has had a partnership with Two Hat to moderate communities in XBOX, Minecraft, and MSN. While semi-automated moderation is needed for the amount of information to analyze, it is important to note that there still remains issues with machine learning algorithms since they are trained on a certain model which can fail in certain situations, such as gaining understanding about words in context.
For those who are interested, here’s a list of potential additional links of resources to explore:
- VIA Ethics Agreement
- Potential dangers of Metaverse
- “Digital Blackface”
- Toxic Players on Overwatch
- Online Harassment
- Two Hat Moderation
- Gaming Harassment Stats
- Gamer Harassment/Gamer Gate
This Week in Innovation History
November 10th, 2001: The First Apple iPod Reaches Customers
In November 2001, Apple shiped the first iPod, the device that changed the course of both the music and technology industries. Of course, at the time, most “experts” could only focus on the fact that other devices cost less and may have had more impressive technical specs. Here’s a podcast on the 20th anniversary on the iPod from NPR.